Just over two years ago, Kim Tush was asked to make infused balsamics for a local farmers market.
She’d previously worked as a paralegal for more than 30 years and ran a gluten-free bakery, so balsamic infusions were a bit of a change.
Tush started Santa Cruz Balsamics out of a Watsonville industrial kitchen incubator around a year ago, importing barrel-aged balsamic vinegar from Italy and infusing it with six California fruit concentrate flavors including mango, pear, black cherry and chocolate raspberry.
She found that there are some similarities between baking and balsamics—so much so that she wants to do a vanilla bourbon balsamic to replace vanilla extract. She spoke to us about the finer points of making great vinegar.
So what makes this vinegar particularly unique?
KIM TUSH: Usually when people are selling flavored balsamics they have customers try it with oil and bread. We don’t do that—it disguises the flavor, and we want people to really taste the different depth of flavor. People aren’t used to the kinds of balsamic we have. There are way more uses for it than just in oil. If you try other balsamics, like the ones from Medina that people make such a big deal about, they can be really acidic. Balsamics need to be aged so that they don’t have that bitter acidic taste.
Also, those bottles are really cool looking.
We import those from Italy, too! They are hand-blown and shaped over there, then sent here in the different sizes. It took six months for the little bottles to get shipped here. Then once we put them in the dishwasher, they take weeks to dry before we can pour anything into them. There can’t be any speck of water when we pour balsamic into them, or else it goes bad. It’s definitely a lengthy process, but it’s a labor of love.
Do you ever miss baking?
I do, because I like being creative, but I am trying to integrate that creativity with balsamics more, too—like with the vanilla bourbon one. But doing this is also easier in a way, because the shelf life for plain balsamic is forever, so I don’t have to panic about expiring product. The best part about this is seeing what other people do with it. I love the creativity that our customers have for their own pairings and dishes, like using the chocolate raspberry one on salads. People tell us they eat more vegetables because of the balsamics.
Santa Cruz balsamics will be at several upcoming holiday fairs, check online for more info. santacruzbalsamics.com. 272-0111.